Monday, January 17, 2011

Lindsay Buroker on E-publishing--Is It Right for You?

Hello all! There are many paths and expectations to publishing success. One of the first things I will always stress is for every new author to research the industry and identify the best path for their writing. As such, today I have Lindsay Buroker to the blog to talk about e-publishing and particularly self-publishing in this route. I was pretty impressed with the thorough research she did in this journey.

Lindsay...take it away!


If you write in genres that aren’t on most agents’ wishlists, or--worse--you write those cross-genre stories that defy categorization, then you might have grown disgruntled by the agent hunt. I know I felt disheartened before I even started. My novel Encrypted is one that doesn’t fall into any neat categories, though I’m going with science fantasy romance (I’m probably the first to use that).

When I browsed QueryTracker, there was a dearth of agents requesting science fiction and high fantasy. And there wasn’t anybody saying, “please send us your science fantasy romances because we know they’ll be huge as soon as this vampire craze dies down...” In fact, most agents had notes that said, “We’d rather cough up hair balls than represent SF/F” (that’s not a direct quote, but it’s the vibe I got from many!). Urban fantasy and paranormal romances were an acceptation, but I grew up reading Eddings, Tolkien, and RA Salvatore, so I don’t even think of those genres as fantasy.

About the time I was debating whether to try querying those few agents who did want SF/F, I stumbled across blog posts about JA Konrath, Brian S. Pratt, and Karen McQuestion, indie authors making a good living publishing their work for the growing ebook-reader demographic.

Online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble make it easy to upload your novels or short story collections as ebooks (you don’t even need an ISBN for those two outfits), and they pay nice royalties too (in the 70% range). This means you can list your ebook at an ultra affordable $2.99 and still take home $2 with each sale.

The more I read about e-publishing, the more excited I got. I even started a blog called Ebook Endeavors to talk about what I was learning and my own results. In December, I listed The Emperor’s Edge, a high fantasy adventure with steampunk elements (all my novels have Categorization Crisis Syndrome) for $2.99. As I write this, it’s been three weeks since the novel went live, and it’s sold about a hundred copies. That’s not exactly enough to live on (it’ll be a while before I recoup my cover art and editing expenses), but I think it’s a promising start for a no-name author. I’ve set aside the agent hunt for the time being.

E-publishing isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but in case it’s something you’re considering, I’ll break down some of the pros and cons here.

Advantages of E-publishing:

It’s a speedy process.

With traditional publishing, it’ll take months--maybe years--from the time you start looking for an agent until you see your book on a shelf (if it ever gets there at all). It took me about a month from first deciding to publish an ebook to having it go live. In that time, an editor proofread it, an artist created a cover, and an ebook formatter turned my Mac Pages file into something readable on the kindle, nook, ipad, etc. When I uploaded the files at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords (a distributor that gets your ebooks into the stores that require ISBNs), it took a maximum of two days for them to go live.

There’s a potential to make good money without being a blockbuster hit.

I’m sure very few people will get rich as indie ebook authors, but some who have great books and who have worked hard at promotion are doing quite well. Some are even in the six-figures-a-year range solely from their ebook earnings. That’s money in the bank account, not gross sales.

The 70% royalty makes it very attractive to be an indie--if you can make sales. Traditionally published authors get an advance, but their royalties are significantly lower--even for ebook sales. Go look them up. Ouch.

You have full control over all aspects of your book.

As I mentioned, I get to set the prices of my ebooks, and I can change them on a whim. This means I can experiment to figure out if I sell ten times as many books at $0.99 as I do at $2.99, or if I can raise my price to $3.99 and see if people will still buy. I’d never price my ebook at $8 or $9 (just look at all the angry reviewers on Amazon giving one star because traditionally published ebooks cost more than paperbacks), even if I was a big name author. That’s not a choice authors who publish with big houses or even small e-presses get to make.

I can also see novel sales as they’re happening, which gives me some insight into what marketing tactics are paying off and which are flopping.

As far as writing goes, there are no deadlines, and you can publish your books at your own pace. The only people you have to please are the readers. You do lose out on the editorial input of an agent/editor, so this could be a con, depending on how much you value that.

The time could be now.

I’m no Nostradamus, but with ebook readers taking off, this feels like the time to jump on this bandwagon. Actually, I wish I’d jumped on a year ago, because some of those people are the ones making a living as indie authors now! Still, with more and more people grabbing kindles, nooks, ipads, etc. the market should only grow.

Downsides of E-Publishing

I don’t want to sell you guys on anything here, nor do I want to say this is wonderful for everyone and you should ditch your agent right now, thank you very much. There are certainly downsides. Here are a couple:

Upfront Costs

Unless you’re artistically inclined, you’ll have to pay for cover art. You’ll also want to hire someone to edit your work (reviewers will pick on you if they find a lot of typos). The actual ebook formatting is something you can learn to do yourself if you want to save a few bucks.

I paid $600-$800 to put together each of my novels, and I’ve seen people pay more if they had heavy line editing done. I’m selling my novels at $2.99, so with a 70% royalty, that means I have to sell 400 copies of each to break even. Actually, it’s probably closer to 500, since I’m spending a little here and there, trying out advertising methods. I believe I will make that money back, but before you make the plunge, make sure you have faith in your story and your ability to market online. Speaking of which...

You’re on Your Own for Marketing

My guess is most of you published authors are snorting because you’re pretty much on your own, too, but with e-publishing nobody’s going to stumble across your title on a bookstore shelf. If you’re not willing to start a blog, push your novel, and network online, this is not for you.

That said, I’m a hardcore introvert who isn’t that comfortable with selling either, and I’m doing all right so far.

In the end, I’m not swearing off the idea of ever seeking an agent or a traditional print deal, but I want to see where this road can take me first. Everything I’m learning about book promotion can only help down the line.

You can find my ebooks at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Thanks for taking a look!


  1. The one thing I always say about this discussion that there is so much more to publishing than Agents and Big 6 vs self publishing in e-format.

    There are plenty of small presses that do print and ebooks (and don't require agents). Then, there are epublishers that do ebook first and sometimes print.

    Konrath et al often forgets this, or doesn't want to admit it, but a lot of people go through the smaller press route. As always, it's an option to consider.

  2. I'm with ya, Krista. With the introduction of the web, there's so many more choices and options and they're easily accessible and can be just as successful to your expectations. (No matter how much some people would like to brush it under the rug.)

    After a lot of research and thought (which included an undertanding of my own strengths and weaknesses) I went a similar route as you with a small press. I don't have the time or skills to really promote to the level of a self publisher, and I had a fear of losing myself and my art in the big guys.

    All and all I am very happy with my decision.

    Thanks for stopping by! I always love hearing your opinion and thoughts on a subject, Krista!

  3. For the SF world, small press epublishers is allowing the near-dead novella to return. A fact that I am very excited to be a part of!

  4. Oh yeah! I really started missing the novella. I even had a few written out that turned into bad novels or jam packed shorts.

    I'm thinking about reviving some now that they're coming back into fashion.

  5. Thanks for giving me the opportunity for to post, Amber! And thanks for sharing your thoughts everyone!

  6. Lindsay! You're so welcome. This garnered some wonderful conversation here and at the SF Brigade! I love when blog posts work out!


  7. Lindsay,
    A great look at the pros & cons. If anything, I prefer working with small press because you get support you need like editing and cover art. I did several projects myself, and while I'm proud of them, the production costs were many and breaking even haven't been easy.


  8. Following up on the comments I see here, I believe Lindsay has made the classic error of confusing the specific of self-publishing by ebook with the larger field of publishing by ebook. The one does not equate to the other.

  9. @ Steph, thanks for stopping by! I have to say, that was my concern about self publishing. I think you have to have the right personality and luck for that.

    @Edwin. New blogger friend. THanks for stopping by. I agree that it can be easy to mix the two, but really I think Lindsay approached the article well and clear with the direction of self-publishing through the ebook format. Her points were tied very well to the issues self epublishers will face...but as with all paths to ebooks, a lot of those issues will transcend to everyone including those aturhos taking the route with small, mid and even large presses. The pros and cons can and will be very similar.